Sunday, 15 May 2016

Armistice Day: The New Zealand Story Philippa Werry

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Armistice Day: The New Zealand Story (2016)
Philippa Werry, New Holland,
Paperback, NZ$25
ISBN:  978 1 86966 441 1

When the Unknown Warrior was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey in 1920, the guests invited to the ceremony included “women who have lost a husband and sons or an only son, women who have lost all or only sons,” war widows, and “20 nurses and 100 men who had been wounded or blinded in the war.” Such a catalogue of heartbreak reflects the way that the Great War affected families all around the world. The day that war came to a halt, November 11th, has been a day of commemoration ever since.

Just as she has done in her popular accounts of Anzac Day and the Treaty of Waitangi, Philippa Werry has assembled a superb range of insights, memories, documents and illustrations into her account of how we have marked the anniversary ever since that day in 1918 when peace broke out. While civilian crowds danced in the streets from Paris to Wellington, the soldiers at the front greeted the news of the armistice more calmly. “We marched back to our quarters, a rather quiet and subdued body of men. Somehow excited outbursts of feeling seemed out of place,” recalled a Canterbury soldier.

Werry also describes the terrible Influenza Epidemic which swept the world even as the war ended, killing untold millions and adding to the misery. She also gives a good account of the New Zealand troops who formed part of the Allied Occupational Force in the Rhineland, providing pictures and a map. My grandfather was one of them and his visit to Cologne Cathedral was one of the high points of his life. Another high point for him was marrying a Scottish nurse, and Werry provides fascinating details of how the thousands of Kiwi servicemen were sent home through 1919 and 1920, many of them with wives and some with children.

Werry has a flair for answering questions that we should have thought of. How were the disabled servicemen cared for? What became of the enemy prisoners-of-war? When and how did mourning families learn the fate of men missing in action? How were the war cemeteries created and maintained? How was the end of the war celebrated? What sorts of memorials were created?  All these questions are skilfully answered. Werry also outlines of ways that have been found to commemorate the Great War, and the development of peace memorials as well as the peacekeeping role.

 Above all this book connects readers with the ways that Armistice Day has been marked over the years since 1918, offering young readers a wide range of suggestions of activities they can take part in. The Index, Glossary, Timeline, Websites and Further Reading List add to the usefulness of this powerful and moving book.

Trevor Agnew

April 2016



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